Quick Questions with … Jennifer Stilwell
Olde Dogge Inn owner caters to pets
By Sue Cook, staff reporter
GAINES – Since 2000, the Olde Dogge Inn has been a staple in the community as one of the only stand-alone pet stores in the county. Jennifer Stilwell opened the business on Route 104 in Gaines.
The store carries a wide variety of pet products to help keep pets healthy and happy. Olde Dogge offers an assortment of services to assist owners with pet care and boarding. Some small animals are also for sale including several species of fish.
The business will be featuring its pet festival on Saturday, which Stilwell plans to make an annual event. Stilwell is excited to see how far the business has come in its 14 years.
Q: Tell me a little about yourself.
A: I have four kids. They’re 15 to 20. I live right here in Gaines about 2 miles from the kennel. I grew up in Albion. I’ve been here since 3rd grade. I graduated from Cornell University with an Animal Science degree and started dog grooming out of college. That’s kind of what led me to this.
Q: Did you always plan to open a pet shop?
A: When I was 15, I worked for Starrview Kennels (in Barre). I remember saying, “This is what I want to do with my life.” They looked at me and said, “You’re crazy. It’s a 365-day-a-year job.” I said, “I don’t care. This is what I want to do.” So since I was 15, I wanted to open a kennel.
Q: Was this business originally yours?
A: I opened this business in 2000. Right out of college, I bought a kennel in Rochester called Lakewind Kennels. I still own it, although I’m in the process of selling it. In 2000, when I started having children I wanted to be closer to home when I worked. This was just an old rundown building. It hadn’t been opened in probably 15 to 20 years. So we renovated it and opened The Olde Dogge Inn.
Q: What sort of services do you offer here?
A: We have boarding for dogs, cats, small animals and birds. We also offer grooming and training, then we have the store on top of that.
Q: What are some of the types of products you offer here?
A: We have premium foods, some small animals like birds, all kinds of pet health products, plus lots and lots of dog and cat toys. There are items like leashes, harnesses, even some outfits and we have plenty of treats! We have tropical fish and all sorts of aquarium products, too. We have 23 tanks of aquarium fish and I think a lot of people aren’t aware of that.
Q: Do certain breeds present a challenge for the groomers?
A: The huge hairy ones are time consuming, but not especially difficult. You’d be surprised because sometimes it’s the smallest dogs that are difficult. It might take three people to calm down an upset little poodle. For grooming, if it’s a difficult dog, we will assign two groomers, or even three, and help to distract the dog or help to hold it. We try to make it as easy as we can on both the pet and the groomer.
Q: How do you handle some of the naughty or scared animals for boarding?
A: For boarding, our runs are set up so that we don’t have to touch the animal if it doesn’t want to be touched. We would prefer to give it attention, but there are some dogs that just do not want us touching them. They can get outside on their own, we can feed them and clean their runs without touching them.
A lot of people have a fear about boarding their dogs and think it’s terrible, but the dogs usually settle in within a couple hours of coming here and the people worry the whole time they’re on vacation. I’d like people to know the dogs are almost always settled and calm. We’ll send videos to people or pictures on cell phones to show them how well the dogs are doing. A woman called her dog from England and we held the phone up to the dog’s ear so she could talk to the dog. A lot of people worry about the whole boarding thing, but the dogs do great.
We provide lots of blankets so it’s nice and cozy. We also have an “uptown area” of upscale runs where they can watch TV. They’re very quiet runs segregated from the rest of the dogs. They have raised brass beds. They’re a kind of fancy area.
We also the puppy room, which is for small dogs, not necessarily just puppies. It’s for the small dogs who would be nervous about the big dogs barking in the regular runs. They can play together with other small dogs and there’s a big yard they can all go out in. Senior dogs could go in there, too.
We try to make it as comfortable as possible for the dogs they are. So nervous dogs or older dogs can be separated.
Q: How many employees do you have here?
A: I have 10 employees. The sales clerks are also kennel attendants. Anybody that runs the desk has the job of making sure animals are okay in the back. We have groomers that also are kennel attendants when they are not performing grooming duties. Everybody that works here knows how to do just about everything, so if there’s a question, people can come in and ask almost anyone.
Q: What about the trainer?
A: We have a trainer that comes from Harmony Dog Training and has years and years of experience. She does it on her own and rents space when she comes here.
Q: How did you choose and hire your groomers?
A: Right now in New York state there’s no certification or licensing requirements. All of the groomers here have been trained personally by me. They started out interning by bathing, grooming and brushing and slowly worked their way up to clipping and learning the styles. All of them have learned this from me. Most of them have been here since day one. So we’ve been open almost 15 years and three out of four of them have been here since day one.
Q: Who are the store pets?
A: We have Edward the white cat who is pretty well known to customers. He was a stray that we brought in. We also have Carlisle, the black and white cat, who was left on our doorstep. He was left on Christmas Day about six years ago. He and Edward just fell in love immediately so we kept him. We have Bob the pitbull. He’s just a big doof who’s very sweet. We have Ruby, a chow mix. We also have Present, a pitbull corgi mix. All of these dogs are rescues. I also bring Frank, William and Josephine with me to work every day and then they go home with me. Frank is a pug, William is a Chinese crested and Josephine is a Boston terrier.
Q: On Valentine’s Day, Edward was pink on his ears and tail! How did he end up like that?
A: We tell Edward that he has to pay rent to live here. He does our grooming advertisement and on holidays we use our pet dyes on him. He’s been lots of colors like green, purple and pink. He’s been red, white and blue for the Fourth of July, too.
The pink lasted a long time. You can’t wash it out, so we wait for it to grow out. We kept saying we’d pick a new color for Easter, but he was still pink so we left it.
Q: What sorts of events does Olde Dogge have throughout the year?
A: We did a free toenail trimming clinic in January. We usually do holiday photos, too, around Christmas time. We’re going to do them again this year with an old-fashioned vintage Santa and vintage costumes.
Q: You have the pet festival coming up on Saturday, Aug. 9. What will be happening there?
A: It’s the second time we’ve had the pet festival and we want to make it an annual event. We’re doing old-fashioned dog photos during that. My son is a photographer and he’ll be doing those. Cindy the Pet Psychic is coming. The Orleans County K-9 Unit will be here doing demos with their dog. The 4-H kids from Orleans County Heelers will be doing agility, obedience and flyball demonstrations and they’ll be selling some concessions. There’s going to be pet costume and talent contests.
From 1 to 2 p.m. there will be a power hour sale! There’s also going to be a $5 nail trim clinic. Rescue groups will be there with adoptable pets. We’ll have food companies with info and free samples. We’re also going to have $5 pet ID tags, too. There’s going to be lots of stuff going on throughout the day and the festival runs from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Petpalooza Magazine’s Petmobile will even be there!
Q: So I thought the psychic sounded like kind of a cool thing. How did you get in contact with her and what are her readings like?
A: We had a pet psychic here our first year of the pet festival. A friend had recommended her to come. She had done a reading on my English bulldog. She said that we were going to have a litter of puppies coming up and that Annabelle wanted to make sure we kept one of her babies. Shortly after that, we did have a litter. The psychic had said it would be five puppies and we had five puppies. We kept one of the babies for Annabelle and they were best buddies. I was at a Petpalooza event in Rochester and Cindy the Pet Psychic was there and she did some readings for some of my employees. They said they were dead on. We had her come to our Christmas party and she did readings for all of us. She was really really accurate. She just seems to tell you what your dog is thinking, so we wanted her here for this festival.
Q: So what are future plans for Olde Dogge Inn?
A: We work alongside PAWS animal shelter adopting cats out for them. We’ve adopted 12 or 13 cats out for them. We’d like to continue that. We’d also like to continue our free toenail clinic every six months. For people who can’t really afford it, we don’t want their dogs suffering. We’ve talked a little about expanding. This building is huge and we thought we’d never run out of space, but now we actually are running out. Maybe down the road we’ll talk about it more. We want to focus more on community-based events that are helping dogs out and keeping them healthy at reasonable prices. I’ve found a lot of people in this area can’t afford a lot of the services, so we try to make costs reasonable and give them options.
To learn more about Olde Dogge Inn or the pet festival, click here.